Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
National and State Assembly candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State and hundreds of their supporters Thursday blocked the main entrance of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) office in Port Harcourt, demanding the relisting of the party’s candidates for the elections.
This is as the State Working Committee (SWC) of APC in the state expressed confidence that candidates of the party would be on the ballot for Saturday’s presidential and National Assembly elections.
The protesters, led by the candidate for Rivers South East senatorial district and Nigeria’s Ambassador to The Netherlands, Oji Ngofa, blocked the traffic on the Port Harcourt-Aba expressway as well as the entrance to INEC office, refusing anyone from entering or leaving the office.
Carrying placards that read: ‘No APC, no election in Rivers State’; ‘INEC obey the Stay of Execution Order of the Appeal Court’, among others, and chanting war songs, they vowed to resist what they described as attempts by INEC to deny them their right.
They demand that APC candidates be relisted on the ballot in line with orders of both the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court.
Attempts by the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Obo Effanga, to gain access into his office was resisted by the protesters who forced the driver of the white Toyota Hilux van to retreat.
However, security agents were able to disperse the protesters by shooting teargas canisters into the air, after Effanga and their leaders finally met and discussed.
Addressing journalists, Ngofa said they would not leave the INEC office until the electoral body obeys the order of the courts and relist the APC and all its candidates in the ballot.
Ngofa said: “We have come here peacefully to compel INEC to obey the laws of Federal Republic of Nigeria. APC has a Stay of Execution order on INEC on the Federal High Court judgement of January 7, 2019. That judgement has been stayed by the Appeal Court.
“We are shocked and displeased with the fact that INEC was in a hurry to delist candidates of APC on the basis of Omotosho’s judgement but has refused to act on an Appeal Court order staying the execution of that judgement.
“We are shocked that INEC will choose the court orders to obey and the ones not to obey.
“We are here today to tell INEC that it must obey the laws of this country. All that the Supreme Court has ruled on are all applications that do not bother on the substance of appeal. That is why the Supreme Court asked us to go back to Court of Appeal. We are back to the Appeal Court that stayed the execution of that judgement. INEC is conniving with PDP.”
Addressing leaders of the protesters, the INEC REC, Effanga, assured them that INEC would meet to reach a decision on their demands.
Meanwhile, the leadership of APC in the state declared that INEC has no other choice than to relist candidates of the party in the ballot for the forthcoming general election in line with the orders of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.
Addressing journalists further shortly after an emergency meeting of State Working Committee (SWC) of the party, the Publicity Secretary of APC in the state, Chris Finebone, said: “After a meeting of SWC of our party where we meticulously deliberated on the recent rulings of various courts, especially the decision of the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt yesterday, which reaffirmed its earlier order that stayed the execution of the judgement of the lower court, there were some reasons to say the APC and its candidates will most certainly be on the ballot this Saturday.
“No order or judgement given since, including orders of the Supreme Court on both jurisdiction and representation, has said otherwise. We opted not to rely on media circuits to convey our right to be included unlike many news reports that were suggesting that we were dead and buried.
“We have since seen the orders and the Supreme Court judgement on stay of execution, which proved beyond reasonable doubt that INEC has an obligation to relist APC or risk being sanctioned for excluding us and disobeying a subsisting court order.
“We hail, once again both the decision of the Stay of Execution granted by the Court of Appeal recently and their reaffirmation of it yesterday. This decisions show that nothing is stopping INEC from relisting APC on the ballot.
“We also welcome the move by INEC to put us back on the ballot as the alternative would have confirmed to us once more the genuine fear that the INEC is working for the PDP.
“We wish to state advisably that obedience to the rule of law is the best antidote to anarchy. In the circumstances, we urge INEC to speedily obey the rule of law and return our great party to its rightful place. We are only demanding the right of being on the ballot and nothing more.”